Sunday, April 1, 2018

Flying, now with new and improved speed and capabilities

Plane: Cessna 182 RG
Route: MGY, Local 
Instructor: Matt
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 47 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 6 knots

It's taken longer than I hoped, but today I finally started my checkout in the new club airplane, a Cessna 182 RG Skylane. The plane itself isn't new to me as I've flown in it about 15 times with friends over the past seven years. However, having never flown a complex or high-performance airplane before, the act of flying said plane does contain some important new bits and pieces.

What's a complex airplane? Basically, it means the landing gear is retractable and the propeller is of the constant speed variety. What's a constant speed propeller? It's the kind where you can adjust the pitch in flight, which effectively means there are now two controls you need to use when managing your engine power and RPMs. What defines high performance? Any engine over 200 HP; this plane has a very capable 235 HP Lycoming O-540.

Me fueling the plane on a trip with Mike back in 2013

CFI Matt and I spent the first 30 minutes talking through the systems, details specific to this airplane, weight and balance, and going over the preflight. For the most part, it really is just a big 172. The key differences are the aforementioned gear and propeller control. It's also way faster than the old Skyhawk.

A bigger airplane means a few other additional controls - cowl flaps, rudder trim, auxiliary fuel pump - to check and set. This plane also has improved avionics over your typical rental, including a Stormscope and a two-axis autopilot. Once I ran through the detailed engine start checklist, I turned the key and the big Lycoming roared to life.

A photo I took of the panel on another 2013 trip with Mike

Matt provided plenty of great tips to go along with his helpful instruction throughout the flight. Right off the bat was one about leaning on the ground; he said he idles at 1000 RPM, then leans the mixture until the engine hits 1200 RPM or starts to run rough. We reviewed the propeller controls again; I made quick use of them during the propeller governor check during the run-up.

I taxied onto Runway 2 and pushed in the throttle. Needless to say, the added power, light load, and cool temperatures made for a much more sprightly takeoff than you'll ever have in a 172. The plane leapt off the runway sooner than I should have allowed; I had to put in quite a bit of forward pressure to hold it in ground effect while we gained necessary little speed. Soon I released some of that pressure and we were climbing like a rocket at about 80 knots. "Positive rate, gear up." Within seconds there was no more runway to land on so I retracted the gear and we gained a bit more speed. Up went the flaps, too. Around 500 feet above the ground I reduced the throttle to the top of the green arc, about 23 in. of manifold pressure, and we continued our quick climb.

To start, we headed east towards Caesar Creek Lake. I could tell I hadn't flown in a while then added a fast, new airplane on top of that, as I wasn't maintaining altitude or heading very well. We leveled off at around 4,000 feet and Matt showed me his procedure for leaning the engine on this plane. It's not that different than the 172 but there is an EGT (exhaust gas temperature) gauge that makes the process easier than doing it by RPM. That and the whole constant speed propeller thing means the RPMs remain, well, constant. He also pointed out this big engine can easily burn 16-17 gallons per hour instead of a proper 12-13 gallons if you don't lean properly. That could certainly eat dangerously into your fuel plan if you don't pay attention!

We did a few steep turns; they were not my best as I easily gained or lost 100 feet. Rust noted. Then I slowed down for slow flight and realized how much power this plane has; I reduced the throttle all the way down to the bottom of the manifold pressure gauge's green arc and it still took a while to slow to 90 knots. We did a power-off stall, which was also not unlike a 172. Heavier in pitch but, in similar fashion, the plane just sort of mushes along and you have to apply a ton of back pressure to get any notable break. On the way back to Wright Brothers we also did a series of S-Turns over a country road and reviewed how to operate the autopilot.

Returning to the pattern, the difference in speed was again noticeable. You're on top of the airport much more quickly at 140 knots than 95! Matt talked me through the usual landing procedures and speeds as we approached. I had slowed some as we crossed midfield to enter a left downwind for Runway 2 but the additional speed meant everything was occurring faster than what I've grown accustomed to.

I lowered the gear abeam the middle of the runway and added 10 degrees of flaps. Mixture to full rich and propeller to full RPM. Abeam the numbers, carb heat on, throttle back to 1500 RPM and begin descending around 80 knots. Turning base, flaps to 20 degrees and maintain speed. Turning final, full flaps (if desired) and aim for 70-75 knots until crossing the numbers.

On the first landing, I flared too high but Matt spoke up in time for me to correct and we touched down reasonably smoothly. I knew coming in the 182 requires way more back pressure on the yoke in the flare and landing but, after that first landing, I didn't feel it required as much force as I had anticipated.

We then did a series of takeoffs and landings - short field, soft field, and normal. This plane has so much power that, for soft field takeoffs, you really have to modulate the back pressure to prevent the nose from reaching for the stars as you pick up speed. It takes a ton of forward pressure to hold the nose down and remain in ground effect to gain airspeed after you take off. For short field takeoffs, you have to use quite a bit of forward pressure to hold the nose on the runway until reaching 55 knots but then the plane easily speeds up to 65 knots as you raise the gear and clear your (pretend, for today) obstacle.

As far as landings go, all were effectively of the normal variety. Both they and the takeoffs improved with each lap of the pattern; I was starting to better anticipate the plane and was just flying smoother in general. The final takeoff, a normal one, was actually quite smooth - I added power, rotated, lifted off, raised the gear and flaps, and established a climb in one reasonably fluid process.

Coming around for the final landing, Matt opted for preferred trick in every CFI's book: a simulated engine-out. He pulled the power to idle and I immediately added carb heat and raised the nose to reduce our airspeed. I already had 10 degrees of flaps in so I left them there and turned towards the runway. This plane sinks much faster sans power than anything I've flown before but I also turned real quick and ended up lowering the flaps to 20 degrees on base. In hindsight, I should have waited until we were on short final since we had a mile of runway in front of us. Nonetheless, I easily made the runway - we touched down (my smoothest of the day) about 500 feet past the threshold and taxied back to the hangar.

Overall, it was a great day of flying. Great because it's been way, way too long since I last flew but also because I'm really excited to learn to fly a new airplane. Flying is always fun (and is the best thing I've ever found to clear my head) but I'm especially looking forward to utilizing the 182 RG for longer family trips, where it really shines.

It's also extremely convenient to have a plane based closer to our house, in a hangar, at a paved airport with lights! Longtime readers know I've had to do the overnight shuffle and morning hop back to Stewart numerous times in the past in order to maintain my night currency. I'm still a huge advocate of that awesome old grass strip - it's a wonderful place to learn and I'll certainly still be flying Cubs there for my vintage aviation fix - but my growing family means this airplane is an awesome fit for some new parts of our mission.

Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 380.1 hours


  1. Congratulations on finally getting into the 182! We’ll look forward to your visit soon! :-)

    1. In this plane, you're only about 2.5 hours away... so a meetup is certainly doable!

  2. What a great traveling machine! Have fun and good luck with the club, the 182 looks to be well kept.